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Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell

Chicago Blues - A Living History

Raisin Music

Raisin Music recently released an exciting dual CD tribute, entitled "Chicago Blues - A Living History". The 21 included staples from 1940 to the present are performed by four of the greatest living Chicago bluesmen: Billy Boy Arnold (harmonica, guitar, vocal), John Primer (guitar, slide guitar, vocal), Billy Branch (harmonica, vocal), and Lurrie Bell (guitar, vocal). Backing the four living legends are The Living History Band, an all-star blues ensemble featuring Billy Flynn on guitar, Felton Crews on bass, Kenny Smith on drums, Johnny Iguana on keyboards, Matthew Skoller on harmonica, and special guests Carlos Johnson and Mike Avery. They all add individual flair to honor many of the renowned Chicago composers and performers of past and present; Sonny Boy Williamson I & II, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Reed, Memphis Slim, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, and more. It's a fine display of blues tradition and originality that has merged over time to form the renowned Chicago blues sound.

The four primary players fall right into their own groove in their individual featured performances. Billy Boy Arnold, known for his potent harmonica wail and easygoing vocal resonance, is featured in six of the album's twenty-one tracks. It's fitting that his first contribution, the album's first track as well, is Sonny Boy Williamson's "My Little Machine". Sonny was Billy's harmonica mentor back in the late 40s. John Primer, a bluesman who started out as guitarist in Willie Dixon's band before sharing the stage with Muddy Waters, is right at home in slide guitar territory in Muddy Water's "Feel Like Going Home", and his potent voice evokes the vocal resonance of Howlin' Wolf in "Moanin' at Midnight". Billy Branch's harmonica moan is all over Little Walter's "Hate To See You Go" and the Junior Wells/Sonny Boy Williamson penned "Hoodoo Man Blues". The former harmonica player for Willie Dixon's Chicago Blues All-stars easily confirms the significance of the blues harp in the Chicago sound. Lurrie Bell, who has been touring and recording with Chicago's Nick Moss over the past year or so, gets into a deep and bluesy rendition of Willie Dixon's "My Love Will Never Die", in a manner that would make both Dixon and Otis Rush smile and sway. He closes the album with a rollicking rendition of Buddy Guy's "Damn Right, I've Got The Blues", an electrifying display of Chicago blues guitar featuring both Lurrie and Carlos Johnson. Johnson is also featured on guitar and vocal in a superb rendition of John Lee Hooker's "The Healer".

"Chicago Blues - A Living History" is just that, and it's a must have for lovers of Chicago blues, lovers of blues in general for that matter. It doesn't come any better than this. The track listing below says it all.

Disc One
1. My Little Machine - featuring Billy Boy Arnold (written by John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson)
2. She's Love Crazy - feat. Billy Boy Arnold (Tampa Red)
3. Night Watchmen Blues - feat. Billy Boy Arnold (Big Bill Broonzy)
4. Chicago Breakdown - feat. Johnny Iguana on piano (Jelly Roll Morton)
5. Feel Like Going Home - feat. John Primer (McKinley Morganfield)
6. I Believe - feat. Lurrie Bell (Elmore James)
7. Moanin' At Midnight - feat. John Primer (Howlin' Wolf)
8. Three O'clock Blues - feat. Billy Boy Arnold (B.B. King)
9. Memphis Slim USA - feat. Billy Boy Arnold (Memphis Slim)
10. Hate To See You Go - feat. Billy Branch (Little Walter)

Disc Two
1. Sugar Sweet - featuring John Primer (written by Mel London)
2. Can't Stand To See You Go - feat. John Primer (Jimmy Reed)
3. I Wish You Would - feat. Billy Boy Arnold (Billy Boy Arnold)
4. Your Imagination - feat. John Primer (Sonny Boy Williamson)
5. My Love Will Never Die - feat. Lurrie Bell (Willie Dixon)
6. Hoodoo Man Blues - feat. Billy Branch (Junior Wells/Sonny Boy Williamson)
7. Hooking It - feat. Billy Flynn on guitar (Earl Hooker)
8. Out Of Bad Luck - feat. Mike Avery on vocal (Magic Sam/Al Benson)
9. One More Mile - feat. Billy Branch (Muddy Waters)
10. The Healer - featuring Carlos Johnson on guitar and vocal (John Lee Hooker)
11. Damn Right, I've Got The Blues - feat. Lurrie Bell/Carlos Johnson (Buddy Guy)

Reviewer Brian Holland is a music journalist who resides in Massachusetts.

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